Analyse Iago and Desdemona's interaction in Act 2 Scene 1. What do we learn about them and how does this reflect the themes of the play?

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coachingcorner's profile pic

coachingcorner | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

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In the play "Othello" by William Shakespeare, the author juxtaposes Iago and Desdemona to show us a little of their personalities. By his quick responses and witty insights, Iago shows his brains - but he is not quite clever enough because he is arrogant. The cleverest of men have been brought down by one simple thing - pride. They don't listen so therfore they don't learn, failing to pick up on very valuable cues. In working so hard on his misogynistic jibes, Iago misses the quick minds of the women. Desdemona parries the quips with skill and dexterity, quick on her feet. It is entirely possible that this repartee could be mistaken for "courtly behavior" (flirting!) Iago fails to realise that women often outwit men through things such as observation and putting 2 and 2 together (Emilia.)

mstultz72's profile pic

mstultz72 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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In Othello Act II, scene i, Iago gives visible signs that he is both a villain and a misogynist.  The only problem is that all men acted and talked this way (maybe not to their wives), so his words seem status quo to his audience then, even though they are shocking to us today.  Observe what he says about women:

Come on, come on. You are pictures out of doors,
Bells in your parlors, wildcats in your kitchens,
Saints in your injuries, devils being offended,
Players in your housewifery, and housewives ("hussies") in your

Here, Iago shows two themes in the play: public appearance versus private reality. The irony, of course, is that he says women are the deceivers: they act well-mannered in public and like sex-starved beasts in bed.  Isn't he the Vice-figure and the two-faced liar in this play?  Aren't the men the unfaithful murderers in this society?

Then, Desdemona says, "you slander," which is true.  Iago responds:

Nay, it is true, or else I am a Turk:
You rise to play, and go to bed to work.

Iago slyly reveals that he the villain, the "Turk," the feared enemy in the play!  Jokingly, he adds that women play all day and do their only work in bed.  Doesn't that describe the men in the play?  What double standards!  Not only this, but the bed imagery foreshadows what will happen in Act V: both women will die there.

So, it is clear in Act II that Iago is more sexist than racist, that he can publicly denounce women (his own wife even), without fear of reprisal--such was their hypocritical and double-standard dealings with women.

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kapokkid | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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They begin by trading jabs, Iago making fun of Emilia and in some sense of all women, and Desdemona poking back a bit, suggesting that Iago doesn't quite have it all worked out perfectly.

When Desdemona pushes him, at first Iago balks a little bit, saying he couldn't possibly describe her in the mockingly positive way he has Emilia and women in general.  Desdemona's reply suggests in some ways that she is wiser than she seems, she can play this game with Iago who has outsmarted nearly everyone else.

Their further interaction in some ways mimicks that of Hamlet and Ophelia in that he decries women for using their beauty to be a pretend honesty, so too does Iago, claiming that there wasn't a woman yet honest enough not to switch the cod for the salmon's head, etc.

In some ways this is a reflection of the way that Iago views women throughout the play, and also a small foreshadowing of the fact that it will be a woman (Emilia) who figures out the whole thing before any of the men do.

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